This one hour and 48-minute video briefly describes the Revolutionary War origin of the Turkey Foot Road and then gives a photo and map-based tour of the road. For best viewing results, watch the video on YouTube in high-definition mode.
Summary of the origin of the Turkey Foot Road
Fort Cumberland on Wills Creek was a busy supply center for the Western Department of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Hauling supplies westward from Fort Cumberland to Fort Pitt was difficult because Braddock's Road was in poor condition and was so circuitous that it required two sometimes-hazardous crossings of the Youghiogheny River.
Tories and British-allied Indians committed massacres in Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania and Cherry Valley, New York in 1778. The American government needed to take action to protect its citizens from further outrages, but the military options of the fledgling nation were limited by its desperate circumstances. Quartermaster General Nathanael Greene suggested destroying the crops of the British-allied Indians with expeditions marching from the Wyoming Valley and Fort Pitt.
General George Washington agreed with Nathanael Greene's idea, but recognized that it had a significant problem: Fort Pitt was desperately undersupplied, leaving it in far too weak of a condition to launch a military expedition. One of the causes was the difficulty of delivering supplies to Fort Pitt because of the badness of the roads. George Washington asked Nathanael Greene to look into the transportation situation.
Nathanael Greene had Colonel George Morgan remedy the transportation problem by opening a new military supply road from Fort Cumberland in 1779 that came to be known as the Turkey Foot Road. This new road was a significant improvement over Braddock's Road because it was 20 to 25 miles shorter and avoided crossing the Youghiogheny River.
The new Turkey Foot Road was used to resupply Fort Pitt in time to enable Colonel Brodhead's expedition from Fort Pitt in parallel with General Sullivan's campaign from the Wyoming Valley. The campaigns were successful, depriving the hostile British-allied Indians of their annual crop of corn. The ensuing winter was extremely harsh, with deep snow that killed the wildlife the Indians needed for sustenance. This forced many to retreat to Fort Niagara where they could have access to and survive on the food supplies of their British allies. This retreat meant that settlers in western Pennsylvania were able to plant their crops in the spring of 1780 with a new degree of safety.
A book that documents the history of Fort Cumberland and the Turkey Foot Road
Lannie Dietle discovered the Revolutionary War history of Fort Cumberland and the Turkey Foot Road and then documented it in his 2019 book "Fort Cumberland" using relevant quotes from the documentary evidence he found. The book was written to cover the history of the Wills Creek area — including the history and construction of Fort Cumberland — before the founding of the town of Cumberland in the mid-1780s. As such, it is the ideal companion to the book "History of Cumberland (Maryland)" that was published by William H. Lowdermilk in 1878. Click here to see the Table of Contents of Volume 1 of Mr. Dietle's book. Click here to see the Table of Contents of Volume 2.
As part of his research, Mr. Dietle delineated the route of the Turkey Foot Road using surveys, deeds, maps, crop marks, oral tradition, etc. He made the route information available to the public by creating the following interactive map, which shows the routes of both the Turkey Foot Road (red dots) and Braddock's Road (blue dots). He also created the video about the Turkey Foot Road that is embedded at the top of this web page. If you don't have time to watch the video, click here for a web page-based photo tour of the Turkey Foot Road.
The Turkey Foot Road (red dots) was a principal route that crossed the mountain barrier between Fort Cumberland, Maryland and Fort Pitt, Pennsylvania. It remained on the east side of the Youghiogheny River, avoiding the two sometimes-difficult water crossings on Braddock's Road. This made it dryer and more direct, compared to Braddock's Road (blue dots). It facilitated settlement to the west, and served the transportation needs of the pioneers who near it.
The church illustrated on the cover is the Emmanuel Episcopal Church of Cumberland, Maryland. It sits on a portion of the former site of Fort Cumberland.
This shows a surviving portion of the old Turkey Foot Road in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.
In this photo, Lannie Dietle is on a field trip examining surviving landscape scars of the Turkey Foot Road in Elk Lick Township, Somerset County, Pennsylvania. The route of the road was chosen to take advantage of the forage that was available from the early frontier settlements in southern Somerset County.